Here are three tips I recently put together for some Liberal Democrat colleagues which are also hopefully of wider use too.
The one question to ask yourself
The secret to making a success of a political blog post is the same as for making a success of a Focus leaflet or a piece of direct mail. Start by asking yourself, “who am I writing for and what will they get from giving up their time and attention to read my words?”
If you are writing for pleasure, the answer may be that you are only writing for your own enjoyment. But for political blogging, you need to give your would-be audience (members? voters in a particular constituency? those who have backed a specific campaign?) something in return for reading.
There are more than enough tedious and unsuccessful pieces online from heads of government to show that even if you are the Prime Minister, writing a piece because you think people will want to spend time hearing from you just because you’re you and have hit the keyboard isn’t enough.
You need to give people something they will want in return for their time. So when planning a blog post, think who your ideal reader is and then complete the sentence: “They will be grateful they read this because…”. The more convincing your answer, the better your post.
Two choices for structure
Then comes structure, where you have a choice: be a journalist or a novelist? The traditional journalist structure (often called the inverted pyramid) is to put all the key points in the opening paragraphs and then expanded in greater detail as you go on. The test is that when finished, you can chop off the last paragraph and the piece still makes sense. Then chop off the new last one again. And so on until you are back down to just the opener. This structure works well when you know that people will often not read the whole piece, as this way you are sure to get over all the key points at the start.
The novelist approach is to open with something intriguing and build up a revelation through the whole piece. This is much harder to pull off well as your writing and content needs to be good enough to keep people reading.
It can work well though when, for example, a controversial point needs explaining and you want to build up the argument first so that you can be sure the reader gets it all before being hit with the controversy.
Three ways to improve your copy
Chose the structure, write the piece… and then do not publish it. Rather, stop to improve it.
Check the paragraph structure. Basically, the first sentence of each paragraph should be a new point, with the other sentences in the paragraph expanding on it. New point, new paragraph.
Go back through the copy to see where you have made references to points which can be expanded on by adding in a web link. If you referred to an event, it could be a link to the registration page. For a reference to a policy motion it might a link to its full text. That way it is easy for people to dive deeper into the topic as they wish.
Then read, re-read and cut down the number of words. However parsimonious you think you can be, you can always cut words on re-reading. Being succinct is showing your audience respect – and it’s no wonder that so many successful authors have made comments along the lines of Ernest Hemingway: “It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg Address was so short”.
Each of these three tips is, deliberately, simple – and so easy to implement. But they are also effective, so if you get them right your blogging will be much more effective.